An admirable study of war’s impact on and legacy in an underdiscussed place.

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ABOVE THE EAST CHINA SEA

The devastating Battle of Okinawa looms large in the lives of two young women—one who lived through the carnage, another who is absorbing its spiritual aftereffects.

The ninth novel by Bird (The Gap Year, 2011, etc.) alternates between two narrators at two points in time. One is Tamiko, a teenage girl who, during World War II, was separated from her family thanks to both the Japanese soldiers who ran roughshod over the island of Okinawa’s native culture and the American soldiers who brutalized its landscape. The other is Luz, a teenage Air Force brat who, in the present day, has just moved to Okinawa with her mother. Luz’s grandmother was Okinawan, but she feels disconnected: The abrupt change of scenery, combined with mourning the death of her sister in Afghanistan, has left her listless and wayward. So when she sees a horrifying vision of a dying woman and child one night at the beach, is she hallucinating or witnessing something more serious? It’s the latter, as Bird’s braided narrative slowly makes clear, and her novel is rich with detail on Okinawan religious lore about lost souls. Tamiko’s and Luz’s narratives make for interesting tonal counterpoints to each other. Tamiko’s story is foursquare and mordant, focused as it is on war’s devastation; Bird writes potently of her being thrust into the role of a Princess Lily girl, a young nursing assistant helping the demoralized Japanese soldiers. Luz’s story is no less concerned with loss, but it’s lighter on its feet, making room for her comic banter with friends and a growing crush on one of her new Okinawan acquaintances. Though the novel occasionally feels bogged down by Bird’s research, she sensitively connects her two sharp narrators.

An admirable study of war’s impact on and legacy in an underdiscussed place.

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-35011-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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